Election monitors in Zimbabwe have called for votes in Monday’s presidential elections to be counted in an open and timely way, as the opposition steps up complaints that it will be denied victory by fraud and authorities brace for protests.
Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party has already won the majority of seats in parliament after sweeping rural constituencies by significant margins, official results show.
The parliamentary outcome does not necessarily indicate voters’ choice of president. The result in the presidential vote – contested by Zanu-PF president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – is due by 4 August, but expected sooner.
Hundreds of MDC supporters gathered in the centre of Harare on Wednesday chanting slogans accusing election officials of bias and alleging that the powerful army had taken charge of government.
Millions of people voted peacefully on Monday in the first election since the army removed Robert Mugabe from power last year. Long queues formed outside polling stations and turnout was recorded at 75%.
Elmar Brok, the head of the first EU monitors to be allowed into Zimbabwe for 16 years, said the elections were a critical test of the country’s ability to reform.
Brok praised an “opening up of political space” but said the government had failed to ensure a level playing field, accusing Zimbabwe’s election commission (ZEC) of being one-sided.
He called on the ZEC to make detailed results public to ensure the credibility of the election given earlier shortcomings. Other monitors also expressed concerns as the count went into a third day.
“Election day is only a snapshot of a long electoral process,” said the US congresswoman Karen Bass, one of the monitors deployed jointly by the US International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute.
“It is vital to see the electoral process to its conclusion, and it is still too early to make an assessment on the nature of these elections.”
The latest results announced by the ZEC showed Zanu-PF had won a two-thirds majority in the 210-seat lower house, which would allow it to change the constitution at will.
Chamisa’s MDC won 60 seats. Analysts blamed divisions within the opposition for the low tally.
Chamisa said in a tweet on Wednesday morning that the ZEC “seeks to release results to buy time & reverse the people’s presidential election victory”.
He added: “The strategy is meant to prepare [Zimbabwe] mentally to accept fake presidential results. We’ve more votes than ED [Mnangagwa]. We won the popular vote & will defend it!”
The election pitted Chamisa, 40, a lawyer and pastor whose only previous experience of power was a stint as a minister in a coalition government several years ago, against Mnangagwa, 75, a longtime Mugabe aide and head of Zanu-PF.
Chamisa said on Tuesday that he was “winning resoundingly”, a claim repeated by senior officials over the course of the day. His supporters gathered at their party’s headquarters in the capital during the afternoon to celebrate victory despite the lack of official results. Police vehicles equipped with water cannon patrolled nearby.
The interior minister, Obert Mpofu, said the government was concerned by “high levels of incitement to violence … by certain individuals and some political leaders who have declared themselves winners”.
If no candidate wins more than half of the votes in the presidential election, there will be a runoff in five weeks.Negotiations to form a coalition government are another possibility.
The two presidential candidates represent dramatically different ideologies and political styles, as well as generations. Pre-election opinion polls gave Mnangagwa, a dour former spy chief known as “the Crocodile” for his reputation for ruthless cunning, a slim lead over Chamisa, a brilliant if sometimes wayward orator.
Support for Zanu-PF has historically been deepest in rural areas, particularly the party’s Mashonaland heartland, where more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s 17 million people live.
The campaign has been free of the systematic violence that marred previous polls, but the MDC has repeatedly claimed it was hindered by a flawed electoral roll, ballot paper malpractice, voter intimidation and handouts to voters from the ruling party. Many of its complaints have now been backed by monitors.
Zimbabwe’s rulers know, however, that a fraudulent election would block the country’s reintegration into the international community and deny it the huge bailout package needed to avoid economic meltdown.
Almost four decades of rule by Mugabe has left Zimbabwe with a shattered economy, soaring unemployment and crumbling infrastructure.
Supporters said the president had won “a landslide victory”.
“The MDC are just extremely bad losers,” said Bright Matonga, a businessman and former Zanu-PF minister.